By Adam Moskowitz
What would you do if Earlham had security cameras? Would you feel any safer? Or do you think that given Earlham’s Quaker history and values, our administration would never subject the campus to a twenty-four hour surveillance system? Unfortunately, security cameras are definitely in the question for the future of Earlham. And, given the trend towards security culture both on the campus and across the nation as a whole (see: PRISM), it seems likely that someday security cameras on our campus may become a reality. But how can students know if this is the direction we’re heading?
I’ve got to hand it to Earlham- as bad they are at being outwardly transparent, sometimes the students just need to dig a little deeper into publicly available information. If any readers of this publication don’t know how to access “Community Docs” via moodle, now is the time to learn. All you need to do is log on to moodle, scroll down to the link that says “Campus”, and then scroll down to the link that says “COMDOCS: 2013 Community Documents ”. Here, you’ll find the publicly available minutes and documents from various campus bodies, including the Campus Life Advisory Committee (formerly known as the Committee on Campus Life), the Welfare Committee (which discusses healthcare plans for the faculty and staff), and the Earlham Student Government.
The Campus Life Advisory Committee (CLAC), in their meeting minutes from September 19, 2013, recorded the following: “It was decided that CLAC needs to find out if they may contribute to the process of placing cameras around campus. If Facilities and Public Safety will make the decision, then CLAC may not have much contribution.” I italicized “process” in this quote because there is a very important distinction between process and decision. Clearly, CLAC has been asked to contribute to the “process of placing cameras around campus”, not the decision on whether or not to do so. And even still, “CLAC may not have much contribution”.
If you want more evidence that this may soon become a real issue, take a look at our newly rebuilt admissions building, Tyler Hall. It is already outfitted with those tiny plastic domes that are ubiquitous in banks, airports, and prisons.
I’m not going to go into all the moral and theoretical implications of surveillance on campus, partly because I think we’re all smart enough to figure that out, and partly because Dan Rosenberg is offering a class on that topic in the Spring. But I will say that there’s a reason why our professors aren’t in the room while we take exams, and why Earlham students never have to sign academic integrity contracts. These are things that set Earlham apart from other schools. It isn’t being quirky–it’s showing trust in our students and community. I don’t know why our administration can’t see the value in offering a campus to prospective students where it might actually be the first time they go to school without constantly being on film. This was the case in my public school system, with cameras in every school bus and every hallway.
As far as safety is concerned, my suggestion would be to build more “blue boxes”. A blue box is a structure often placed around college campuses with an emergency button on it that would immediately call the security office and open up a line of communication with the person that pressed the button. These do exist on our campus, but I have seen other campuses that have far more of them than we do. The difference, in effect, between a blue box and a security camera is that it places the decision to those who are present in an actual emergency to alert security. It doesn’t assume that we are at all times in an everlasting state of emergency.
If security cameras were in fact placed around campus, I believe that their effectiveness in protecting people would be far outweighed by their effectiveness in protecting property. An Adirondack chair on the heart that is being vandalized, for example, cannot press a button to call for security. Keep this in mind when the administration eventually decides to hold a student forum on the “process” of placing cameras on campus.